Gretchen also asks why children's books teach colors. She says this: "I'd prefer to teach colors with a book like The Color Kittens -- not that anyone is in dire need of a book to learn about this aspect of every single item in his environment."
My jaw dropped. What an obvious thing. Why do we use books to teach about things that are so ubiquitous? Can we not point to red things, repeat the word "red," and get our point across to the child? Can we teach counting and numbers this way as well? How many other practical, daily things and ideas do we lean on books for, which we could teach to our children directly? Can't we just show them what shoes and chairs and hairbrushes actually are, instead of showing them pictures in books, of real things that lie all around them? Well?
|"1 Is One," a number book by Tudor|
Books are inherently representative. Nothing on the page is real except the paper and the ink. Is that why reading is such an a difficult and essential skill? It's the skill we use to teach this convoluted, representational, roundabout practice. Learn your letters, which have no real meaning. They parallel sounds we make, but on the page they are silent. Put the letters together to make words, but those merely stand for real objects and concepts. Read lots of words to grasp ideas that you could just look up from your book and see.
Isn't that a lot of work? Why do we do it?
As an aside, I'll mention that learning to read music is much the same, only more laborious. The process of learning that the symbols on the page represent sounds made on a torturous instrument, and rhythms one must learn to feel -- it's a miracle anyone learns to read music well.
But what about my question? Is reading a skill we want children to acquire, so that we can then teach them? Learn to read, we say, so that you can learn everything else, which is written in books. That's changing, you know. Lately a distinct shift has occurred in education that says, Don't read about it. Do it. Touch it. See it. The assumption is that the book is really an obstacle, something that stands between the child and truly experiencing counting blocks or touching a fish or seeing a dinosaur bone or visiting the ocean. Whole educational programs are now founded on manipulatives, on movement and kinesthetics, travel, nature, experiencing the education.
|Montessori classroom -- lots of fun, but not a book in sight|
Books do stand between us and the world. Dickinson said a book is like a boat that can take you anywhere, with so little effort or cost. Is that a good thing? Wouldn't it be better to go see the world instead? Is a book just a second-rate option? What do you think? Perhaps books stand between us and the world to protect us. How preferable is it to read about dangerous places, dangerous people, even dangerous science projects, rather than discover then first-hand? Is it better for a 3 year old to read about loneliness in a book, so he'll be ready when it visits him personally? I don't know.
In this way, I think perhaps computers have much in common with books. Certainly we use them to experience our world second-hand, more than we ever did with our reading. I can take a college course, visit Ireland, hear a world-class pianist play Rachmaninoff, chat with a friend from across the world, and see my old childhood home in Virginia, without leaving my laptop. Even a book doesn't do that.
Why do we humans have such a penchant for symbol? For little letters to stand for an object? For many tiny black words to tell a life? If you find an answer, let me know.